Monday, August 24, 2009

Dou suru? Aizu!

Beautiful Aizu was the venue for my latest triathlon exploit, appropriately named "Utsukushi Triathlon in Aizu" on Lake Inawashiroko. Despite the hot and humid conditions of mid-August Tokyo, we had near perfect conditions with overcast skies at the start of the freshwater swim.

Swim: Dave Sims, Tony, and me lined up at the "floating start", wondering how far we would actually swim. The shallowness of the lake was quite apparent, although the swim course had been altered this year to reduce porpoising and increase actual swimming. I had a decent swim time, but was unprepared for the wading and porpoising. Although porpoising increases your speed, it is harder to do than swim, and my legs felt like bricks. I guessed Dave was having a tough time also, as I was only a minute or so behind his powerful strokes after the first loop. 2 loops of 750 meters and I was on the beach in 26 minutes, close to my best swim effort.

Bike: It was a long run to the bike area and rather slow transition. My bike training had gone fairly well and I looked forward to a ripper on the gentle downhill course. I averaged 35.9 kph. I rode with Tony for a while, but at about 20k, the downhill steepened, and Hillary de Cervelo topped 55 kph. I should have kept on pedaling hard, but the high speed spooked me, so I held off and lost Tony and his 6 friends. The rest of the ride was rather uneventful. My bike time including both transitions was 1:10:24, so about 1:07 or 1:08 net time.

Run: Run time was disappointing. I felt moments of strength and would surge as much as I could, only to feel the stomach cramps, hamstring aches, and general fatigue force me to slow down. It didn't help that there were no distance markers throughout the course, so I had no idea of pacing. Perhaps I would have picked it up had I seen a 23 minute 5k split. Who can say? Total 10k split was 46:22 for 103rd place in the run. For an experienced runner with a recent 1:36 half marathon time in July, unforgivable.

Swim: 26:11 (70th place)
Bike: 1:10:24 (53rd place)
Run: 46:22 (103rd place)

Total time was 2:22:59, 60th place out of 400 participants, a PB by almost 3 minutes, despite the slow run.

Congrats to Dave and Tony, who both had PBs also. Next month is my last tri race of this year most likely, in Hasaki, Chiba. It should be a fast course with cooler weather. Time to hit the track and get those run times down!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Obuse half marathon: The namaste zone

My right hammy was my achilles heel this year at Obuse. It had been acting up in the past 2 weeks before the race, sidelining me last week during a track workout, so I was apprehensive going into the race on Sunday morning. We also had a huge meal the night before at our favorite Nagano Italian place and woke at 4 am to make it to the early 7 am start. I again had eaten too much and slept too little. On top of that the clouds pulled away our sun cover just at the start time, so we had the extra heat to deal with.

At the start I lined up near the elite runners hoping to latch on to Paddy and others for the initial 5k. I could see Paddy running just in front of me as the gun went off, and accelerated up to him. I joked, "Isn't this a 5k race?" to Paddy as I went by him very temporarily. He soon was off and away into the sunny morning hills. At 1k my watch said 4:05 so I took my foot off the gas pedal as I was looking to do 4:30 pace. Next came Terry at about 3k. It was very hot as the sun was fully sizzling, so I didn't stay with Terry long. At 5k, I went thru at a reasonable 22:20 just as Simon came up to join me. We stayed together for most of the next 10k, which was a nice push for me.

My hamstring started to scream at 7k, so I needed that extra push to get me thru and take my mind off that aching feeling. I had pulled slightly ahead of Simon, but he reeled me in again just at the 15k mark. I saw 22:56 for the 10-15k split and noted, "going too slow", and gently pushed down on the gas pedal. It became harder to breath, but I used my limited yoga experience to adjust my breathing pattern, and somehow fell into a nice groove. I began to feel outside my body and had reached the "namaste zone". With only a few k to go, I started chatting with the other runners, again trying to take my mind off the physical aches. I finished without major incident and ohh that water fountain at the finish line was heaven on earth. I was starting to feel human again...


22:20 5k
22:37 5k
22:56 5k
23:02 5k
5:04 1.1k

1:36:03 total gun time

I was happy with that time, although far from my sub-1:30 PB. My last time in Obuse was 2005. Upon reflection into the deep archives of my running records (a big cardboard box in my closet), I note a 1:38:40 in 2005. I remember it being pretty hot 4 years ago, maybe a little hotter than this past weekend. But I give myself credit given my lack of high mileage over the past 2 months. Megumi had a nice race too with a 1:46, which was much better than her expectation of 1:50 plus alpha. This race could be a nice warmup for the festivities in October! More to come on that soon....

Many thanks to the Chandlers for splendid organization. If Sara Cummings is the queen of Obuse, than Mami and Gary are the princess and prince. This is a wonderful race and fun weekend. Highly recommended.

Kamakura Roughwaters 5k swim

I did my first open water non-triathlon swim race 2 weeks ago in Kamakura. It is called "Roughwaters Swim" due to the usual large wake coming in from the south. I think the long 5 kilometer distance of the event also implies that it is rough for some people. For most of us ironmen doing the event (Jay, Mika, etc.), there was little doubt that we could complete the course without incident. (An ironman swim course is 3.8k followed by some 10 hours of grueling bike and run.)
It turned out to be a mild day with little wake, although it was very hot espescially inside my full body wetsuit. As it was my first outdoor swim race, I had little expectation for the top tier as I had reckoned the competition would be stronger than a typical triathlon. (I finished 60th out of 195 triathletes in the Murakami swim last month). So I was quite surprised to see my name of the top of the list, #7 overall and #1 in my age group. My time was 1:28:30, which was a faster pace than my 1:17 swim in ironman last year for the 3.8k distance.

The course started from the beach and I raced ahead of the group, confident in my porpoising ability. I stayed in the lead for a good 150 meters as noone could match my dolphin tactics. After 150 meters, finally some decent swimmers caught me and whizzed by. I tried to draft off the fast guys for a few strokes. At the last buoy, I felt pretty good, made the 180 degree turn, and headed back to Kamakura beach. I noticed that I was swimming comfortably without much breast stroke, a change from my previous races. At the beach I saw Jaynie cheering. In between gambares she indicated that her boyfriend Jerome was in front of me and Jay was behind, while Mika was still missing in action. I ran thru the start gate and entered the water again. I focused on a couple of swimmers that I recognized, and drafted off of them most of the 2nd loop. After that the race was pretty much a blur. I actually took one water break at the raft parked in the middle of the course. I did not go 100% until the last loop given my inexperience in open water swims. I also felt a little worried about the heat as it was about 25 degrees, the temperature borderline for wetsuit usage. I need to get a sleeveless wetsuit one of these days.
After Jay and Mika came in, we relaxed on the beach and watched Omar do his 3k swim, which was his first time also. He is fast but had a problem with his wetsuit top, and fell off the leaders after the first lap. We than ran 10k thru the hills of Kamakura and had a couple of beers on the beach to round up a perfect day. Thanks to Jaynie for her support and pics. Mika maido domo for signing me up at the last minute.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Haruki Murakami is in the building

3 words: Hot hot hot. This year the Murakami triathlon was held on June 28 instead of its normal late September date,
which eased the normally rough sea of Japan conditions. However, it was extremely hot, over 30 degrees at 9 am and 35 C at 11 am. This would be my hottest olympic distance tri, and memories of
China's "dual in the sun" half IM with Mika and Jay haunted me. None of the clouds appeared that had been forecasted, and I escaped to the one oasis of shade near the beach after setting up my bike in the transition area.
Still, I thought I might have a chance to crack my PB of 2:25 given the fast bike course, but blew the swim with a 31 minute leg. This was shockingly disappointing, as I had swam a 25 minute in Nijima last month and had trained consistently in the pool and Kamakura this past month. I tried to keep my head up to locate the target buoys, but I suppose I didn't do this enough (every 3-4 strokes), and I got caught out of line a few times, causing a zigzag formation.
The bike split was ok at 1:11:48, a little slower than last year's 1:08 (without a swim). There was a stiff wind going out for the first 20k, and I couldn't get Hillary above 32 kph. I battled the bike out with my friend Tony, who also was sporting a Cervelo tri bike (name unknown). He is about the same speed as me on the bike, so I wasn't too worried about the slow speed in the headwind. The tailwind at the turnaround was great. Weeeeeeeee at over 40 kph for most of the 2H of the bike. Average time was almost exactly 35 kph. I pushed it reasonably hard on the bike as I knew the run was pretty flat.
T2 went well and I was in and out of T2 area in about 15 seconds, but I felt awful for the first 5k. My legs wouldn't move. I said, "run faster" to my legs, but they would not respond. I guess it was the heat and my lack of running since the Oxfam 100k hike injury. I jogged it for 25:00 5k split as
Tony tried to reel my in, about 20 meters behind me. At the 5k point, Megumi yelled, "Tony's right behind you, Babe!" I suddenly felt a little more genki as if Meg's encouragement were a wake-up call, and picked up the pace. At the next corner, I noticed that I had dropped poor Tony, who is not as experienced a runner as your humble narrator. (incidentlly Tony wants to start running with Nanban Rengo). The 2nd 5k was just under 23 minutes for a 47:57 total 10k run.
Total time was 2:30:54, my slowest time in a couple of years, after a 2:25 PB in Nijima. I finished 1 minute ahead Tony, who also finished 1 minute behind me in Nijima. Congrats to Mika, who had a 2:43, good enough to win her age group. And a big ootsukaresama to Ma, who did her first tri in about 3 hours but a DNQ. Many thanks to Dave Sims for driving us up and back to the race. Nice to go without having to pack and assemble the bike! Thanks as always Megumi for the pictures and support.
A final note: The famous author, Haruki Murakami, was in the race and did over 3 hours. I hoped to get an autograph as I just finished reading "What I talk about when I talk about Running", but I never did see him....

2:30:54 36th overall (out of 195 finishers)

6th Age group (out of 33)

Swim 31:09 60th

Bike 1:11:48 19th

Run 47:57 61st

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Beer mile part deux: revenge chug

My second beer mile was a huge PB of over 2 1/2 minutes. I downed 4 beers in between 400 meter splits with amazing improved efficiency, cracking the 10 minute barrier. Normally I would run about a 6-7 minute mile, so the drinking bit took about 40 seconds per beer. My official time was 9:53 versus my virgin beer mile time of 12:33.
To recap for those ignorant to the ways of the beer mile, 1 12 ounce (333 ml) beer is chugged before each 1/4 mile (400 meters) run, 4 times, for a total of 4 beers and 1 mile. Out of the 7 men/women in my group, I finished 3rd, well behind Joachim and Satohi, but a lot closer than last time! I am getting dangerously good at this...

The party continued our drunken runner behavior as it was a special sayonara for our dear friends Joachim and Christiana, who are moving to China this month. Keren also made his return to Yoyogi Park, and can be seen below in photo surrounded by luscious Nanban female members. And Dayan was back from Israel on a surprise 40,000 yen trip.
Most importantly, Megumi, my fiancée, was there cheering for me. Perhaps that was the magic I needed.
After chatting with Jay and Taro later, we discovered that we had all had about 3 minute improvements. We also had an easier time chugging but more challenge in running at full speed after the chugs. Beer chugging and belching are surely acquired talents.
The weather was definetely more favorable. I actually felt like having a beer at the start line in the hot muggy afternoon sunshine. Last race was on a cool January morning....
Will the wounded knee hold up in Murakami in 2 weeks time?
Stayed tuned for more triathlon tragics...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Oxfam trailwalker 100k hike: Legs like dogmeat

2 days after completing my first 100k trailwalker thru an extremely difficult course in Hakone, my legs are still feeling like dogmeat. Perhaps it was the 4 weeks in a row of racing triathlons, half-marathons, and 10ks. Or that 5 hour 40 minute, 18k climb in the dark rain on Friday night. Whatever the case, I think the numbers better explain the journey.

Here they are:

9k: 1:56:10
CP1 break: 11:00
9k: 2:15:30
CP2 break: 31:34
5.5k: 1:03:13
CP3 break 33:48
12.5k: 1:59:51
CP4 break: 54:17
18k: 5:41:03
CP5 sleep: 3:53:41
9.5k: 2:03:14
CP6 break: 1:26:18
16k: 3:57:56
CP7 break: 1:39:13
13.5k: 3:48:01
CP8 break: 19:14
7k: 1:53:59

Total time: 34:14:02

Total break time: 9:31:43

Total hiking time: 24:44:47

Average hiking speed: 4.1 kph

Average speed including breaks: 2.9 kph

41st out of 119 teams**

**only 3 members

The course was fairly tough. And frustrating. I felt I had plenty of stamina in my lungs and was comfortable climbing past non-runners on the difficult ascents. The problem for me was my calves. I had severe tightness in my left calf just behind my knee from CP4 on to the finish. (the course consists of 8 checkpoints (CP), so about every 12k there is a check point where you can load up on calories, pop a squat, stretch the legs, etc.).

I was roped into the Mitsui Fudosan team at the last minute. My comrades were Kaga san, Iwamoto san, and Su san.

CP1-CP3 we buzzed along at a rapid pace...too fast actually. Mr. Su from China got cramps almost immediately after CP1. I thought we should slowdown the pace but we pressed on at a 5 kph clip, which is quite fast carrying heavy 6-7 kilo packs. We had no car support so we had to carry most of our supplies including jackets, flashlights, extra clothing, etc. Sure enough Su san pulled the plug at the 36k point at CP4 after a blistering 6.1 kph pace from CP3 to CP4. So now we were three.....

We tackled what proved to be the hardest part of the course next. CP4 to CP5. 18k, most of which was in the dark after a brief ramen pit stop. It started raining harder on top of things, and was up and down the entire way to CP5. Iwamoto san lead the whole way. He is a good hiker and we were glad to have him in front. I felt like I was cheating, drafting off him and borrowing his light. He was quite alert, calling out various dangers: branches, roots, sharp ascents and descents, etc...

All we could think about were CP5's sleep quarters. And infrequent human companions along the way were great. What a joy it was to bump into another group in the middle of the night rain! A lone ranger came up from behind us to our amazement with a couple of kilometers to go to CP5. Where's your group?, we asked. Oh, I left them behind for some reason...mind if I hang with you guys?...Sure!

We rolled into CP5 after 5 hours and 41 minutes of toil through the dark, wet mountain at about midnight. The check point at Daiyuzan Saijo-ji looked like a war zone. Bodies layed out left and right on the floor on yoga mats or without, clothing caked with mud, wet clothes hanging on the heaters, and first aid women taping up hiker after hiker. We quickly stripped out of our wet clothing and bedded down for a hearty 3 hour nap. The plan was to sleep until 3:30 am and be in full gear by the time the sun rose.

I only slept 1-2 hours as the room got noisy when other hikers piled in during the wee hours. A quick coffee at 3:45 am and we were ready to roll and meet the rising sun. My left calf had been bothering me since CP4, and I had hoped the sleep would magically cure the soreness, but alas, the pain was still there. It got worse and worse throughout the day. Thank god for advil...

But the hike to CP6 was a cakewalk, and I now looked forward to meeting Megumi between CP6 and CP7. Meg kept me alive on the tough climb. I knew we had more big climbs coming up after CP7, but the thought of Meg with us made it seem easier. I got my second wind.

We met Meg at exactly the halfway point and I immediately scoffed down the lasagna, tofu, and nuts that she had kindly brought from Tokyo. We had been living on onigiri, bananas and instant soup for 25 hours, so it felt great to eat real food, albeit cold.

Meg was the spark plug for us. She bounced up the trail with us, took some weight off my bag, spurred the conversation, and pretty soon we were at CP7.

After a shower and onsen break, we were joined by Kaga san and Iwamoto san's colleague from Mitsui Fudosan, and tackled another hard climb of 13.5k. Everyone was getting tired and tightening up, but we were brightened by our new supporters and the fact that were were 80% done. I took personal pleasure in counting every 500 meters, 200 signs in all. The counting process kept me going.

At the last checkpoint 8, we rushed through and hit the trail, knowing we only had 1 1/2 hours to cover 7k of tough terrain before nightfall. The initial climb was very steep, but I took solace in the fact that it would be over very soon.

My leg was now in dogmeat territory, and I had to lean half my weight on my walking stick to relieve the pressure. It felt like we were flying, high on advil, sport drinks, fruits, and nuts. We were passing almost all groups now. Nobody passed our posse of 5 since Meg had joined.

After that very steep initial climb it was all gravy. We were about 4k out and descending now before the last climb. Another 10 minute climb to the last peak and we were greeted with a georgeous view of the lake Yamanakako (the 3 of us are pictured above, near that peak). Down the hill and we were so close we could smell the finish. We passed 1 more group on the final 1k and barely needed the flashlights for the final bit. A big round of applause (atatatatakai hakushuuu) for Team Oakwood!

Later I heard that fellow nanbanners James, Phil, Ed, and others (I saw 2-3 other nanbanners on the course) finished in blistering times. Maybe something to shoot for next time...

Many thanks to Megumi for coming out on the second day at the crack of dawn. And also a big domo to Kaga san and Iwamoto san's colleague. And don't forget our sponsor Oakwood. Thanks Keren. See you in Tokyo soon!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Nijima Triathlon: The long and windy road

An excellent weekend was had by all at Tokyo's paradise island Nijima. I had a reasonably good result given the conditions in the olympic distance triathlon. I broke my PB by 30 seconds with a 2:25:21, which was as good as I could expect given the warnings of windy bike roads and hilly run course.

It was near perfect weather of 20 degrees C at the race start and the rain avoided our island for the entire weekend while it rained on the mainland.

My splits were as follows:

Swim: 25:22 (75th place)
Bike: 1:14:08 including T1 and T2 (35th place)
Run: 45:49 (32nd place)

Total: 2:25:21

32nd place out of 170 finishers, 141 male finishers

Many thanks to Phil the Ryano for his suberb organizational skills and impetus to get us out of Tokyo to the island in the first place. We all pledged to go back again soon (next year). That's it for the short version. For my normal ironmanish long version of the race and weekend keep on reading. Details of the weekend and race go something like this....

Prerace: On Phil's advice, we assembled the night before at the Takeshita marina for the slow 11 hour boat ride to Nijima, which turned out to be quite pleasant. The ship was huge, maybe 300 feet or so, and moved gently over the calm seas. I slept soundly for 5 hours until the loudspeaker reminded us of stops from Oshima at 5 am down to Nijima at 9:30 am.

Swim: Conditions were a little cool for a swim at 18 degrees C water temperature, probably my coldest tri swim ever, but I wasn't too worried. Sure enough, once I started stroking, I was warm and toasty after a minute or 2. I was able to porpoise in the shallow water for 100 meters and found myself amazingly ahead of my entire wave for a good 200 meters until the fast guys swamped me. I got around the second buoy and headed back to the beach and was happy to see 12 minutes on my watch at the halfway point. I am on PB pace if I can only maintain this speed I thought to myself as I porpoised by a few tired swimmers. Rounding the final buoy I was in a good groove as I had been drafting off the poor guy in front of me for the entire lap. I checked my watch and saw 19 minutes with about 300 meters to go. Cool! I stepped on the gas pedal and hit the beach in 25 minutes, a new personal best! (I was happy with that, but unfortunetely later I discovered that everyone had a good swim, so it wasn't just me!).
Bike: The T1 transition was less than perfect. I decided to skip the socks (a mistake), couldn't get off my wetsuit fast enough (need more vaseline next time), and forgot to put enough power drink in my gel mix. I ended up dehydrating myself on the bike, but I guess it didn't slow me down too much. I forgot to zip up my shirt, so had to slow down on the bike course to do that without crashing. The bike course started out quick down the first 3k stretch, but than we hit the hills and I groaned. It was very technical and bumpy most of the way. I was praying that my bike Hillary didn't crack under the pounding. The first 13k lap was tough enough. The next 2 laps were somewhat easier as I got used to the bumpy and windy terrain. But I felt like I was playing catchup, trying to get my time close to 1:10. I finished the bike with a fairly miserable 1:14 including the 2 transitions, about 1:11 without transitions. Again, T2 was too slow as I had a bad stomach cramp, which immobilized me for several seconds as I stretched out the swollen muscle. I did enjoy the competitive feeling of the bike. It was fun to try to catch up to Phil. He was surprisingly fast on the swim and bike, and I couldn't close the gap much on the bike. I could see my friends Jay, Mary, Sumie, but didn't spot Mika or Dave.
Run: After a feeble T2, I headed up a giant hill still feeling woozy from the stomach cramp. I had to pull over for a pee, as I hadn't been able to sweat much on the bike. Than I discovered my shoelaces were untied and pulled over again. Dammit my run time is going to suck also I thought. There was no way to figure out what speed I was going as is typical of the Izu island series races, so I had to wait to the 5k point. Actually at 3k turnaround point I sighted Phil shuffling along just a few hundred meters in front so I had somewhat of a gauge on how I was doing. On my way down the hill to the 5k point I saw Jay about 6-7 minutes behind so I knew my Jay cushion was somewhat safe, although as many know Jay does have a dangerous run. At the 5k point I saw Mika with camera on the side. I asked, "what happened??!!". She said she would tell me later.
I started to feel better after going thru the big hill at about 6k, waved to the elderly people in wheel chairs and accelerated for the last 4k. I got thru the first 5k in 23 minutes and did the second 5k in 22 minutes. I guess I lost about a minute on the first 5k with the pee and shoelace breaks, so splits were about even.
The best news was that I achieved a new PB, albeit a mere 30 seconds, in a pretty tough course. I hope to shave several minutes off the PB next month in Oshima and/or Murakami as I am running pretty well and swimming fairly well. I need to put more bike rides together in the next few weeks though. You can see by my bike ranking of 35 versus run rank of 32 despite a 1 minute break that I have some bike work to do. A few transition drills wouldn't hurt either. In retrospect, the Fuji Susono half marathon last week probably hurt me a little on the run and bike, as 6 days was not enough recovery time. Fuji was hotter and hillier than I had imagined, but that is a sho ga nai.
Thank you Mika for helping Phil with the organization and taking all the groovy photos. The big zannen for Mika was a breathing problem on the swim, which forced her to pull out. It is disappointing to not be able to test yourself on the course, but I hope that it will be a blessing in disguise for Mika. Hopefully she will be more motivated to train on the swim for her ironman debut in Canada this August. Gambatte Mika!
A final word on Keren, our tri guru. Keren, you were sorely missed in Nijima and we all wish you well in Australia. We hope for a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing you toe the line in one of September's triathlons.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fuji Susosososonononono 1/2 marathon taikai

A hot and hilly scenic detox pressure cooker. That is how I would describe Fuji Susono 1/2 marathon in 10 words or less. I know this has been well said, but those first 5k were tougher than nails.

My time was very slow, a personal worst (PW) since 2002 when I started running with nanban rengo. But it was a decent detox workout as I sweated profusively for 100 minutes at high altitude, and a nice warm-up for my first triathlon of the tri season next weekend in Nijima.

My time was 1:40:54, about 6 minutes off my goal.

69th place out of 350 in my age group.

It did feel satisfying to pass many runners on the last 5k as I was able to use my long strides to my advantage down the last stretch.

Splits were:

5k: 26:23

10K: 23:09

15K: 24:26

20K: 22:31

1.1K: 4:23

A huge ooohhtsukare to Jay for his efforts to organize and direct the barbarian horde to victory. Chiba san and Yuka chan also deserve thanks for their constant support.

A big danka to Joachim and Christiana for the swell fotos and pleasant ride down from their home in Kamakura on Saturday.

Megumi finished the race without problems (buji ni kansou shita), which was yokatta give her bad fever/flu over the past week. Meg came in at around 1:51, not bad at all give the heat, hills, and fever.

These photos are of various shots from the beer halls and blueberry lodge scenary. The beer was a delicious microbrew which we couldn't abstain from the night before the race. Nonetheless, it was so smooth that I suffered little hangover, and soon sweated all poisons out of my system during the first 5k climb.